In his book, British author Shahzad Aziz travels through the Middle East, including Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, to explore the relationships between Arabic and Muslim cultures and Western society. His aim to “shed a little light” on Arab/Western relations, and gather Middle Eastern perspectives on a variety of issues, is a sound one. Unfortunately, Aziz’s awkward prose style often proves an obstacle to absorbing his wider arguments, and the book does not quite mesh as both a travel account and an examination of cultural perspectives.  
Aziz writes in the “format of a travel diary”, in which he sets out to talk to “as many of the locals as possible” in the different cities and countries through which he travels. While he gives a fairly detailed account of his daily schedule and of the places he visits, the overall shape of this journey is never made clear. Aziz is almost suspiciously vague as to how long, exactly, he spends in each place, and never explains the overall duration of time he spent traveling and writing. Though his aims in this book are, clearly, more than just an account of his travels, this is still a travel book, in “travel diary” format. Without a strong sense of his journey’s time and place, his treatment of deeper issues feels incomplete. Absent, too, is a sense of Aziz himself as traveler. His mode of travel – be it lean backpacking or shuttling from one resort to another – is unimportant; what is important, is making the reasons for that choice clear to the reader – which Aziz never really does. There is also a certain naïveté to his travel (while walking through Tehran, he observes that “on more than one occasion I had to ask for directions”), which makes it difficult to know how well he was able to immerse himself in the cultures and places he describes. 
Aziz’s writing itself also trips the reader up. At times his language feels forced, wordy, formal, while in other sections his tone is overly conversational. This wavering between narrative modes makes it difficult to stay within the world of the book. Comments on things like fast taxi drivers or airport chaos are standard travel writing fare, but they feel disjointed from Aziz’s political and philosophical musings, and the book fails to unify itself successfully.  
The strength of In the Land of the Ayatollahs, however, is Aziz’s effort to represent the opinions of the local people he meets. As a British Muslim, he’s in a unique position to communicate openly with both Muslims and Westerners. Few writers would have access, as Aziz does, to informal conversations with such a wide range of Middle Eastern residents – including taxi drivers, fellow airline passengers, and university professors. Many of these conversations are recounted in great detail, but Aziz’s method of reconstructing them is, once again, unclear. It seems unlikely – and certainly no hint is given – that he recorded conversations, though perhaps he relied on notes. Either way, however, it is hard for the reader to judge the accuracy of Aziz’s reconstructed memories.  
But even in light of this book’s various problems, the relevance of what Aziz attempts to examine should not be underestimated. His observations of Western influence in the Arab world through television and other media, his considerations of the conflicts and contradictions inherent in Arab/Western relations, and his discussion of a range of issues in the Muslim world, are interesting and valuable. Though the author’s execution is somewhat messy, In the Land of the Ayatollahs may well be worth a look for the perspectives offered on the tensions between Western and Arab/Muslim societies.   
By Laura Chartier